Raising a puppy is a big responsibility. Raising a senior dog is an equally important responsibility. One of the easier things to get right is their diet. But how do you feed a senior dog? Let’s learn more about what senior dogs need in their diet and how you can help your dog age gracefully.
When is a Dog Considered Senior?
As a dog owner, you probably already know that every dog is different. Even dogs within the same breed may act old beyond their years or stay forever young. Even veterinarians don’t have a straightforward way to tell if a dog should be considered a “senior.”
The rule of thumb that most people use is that the size of the dog normally determines if they are seniors. For large or giant dogs, they are usually considered senior around age five or six. Smaller dogs may become senior around age eight or nine. You may have also heard of dogs living to 16 years old or even older. This just goes to show that you can’t really judge a dog by their age as a number, but rather by how they act and how independent they are.
Overall, you can probably consider a dog a senior once they start exhibiting these symptoms:
- Vision problems
- Lumps or skin issues
- Weight loss or gain
- Bad breath or dental issues
If your dog suffers any of these conditions, you can probably call them senior. If your dog is having mental or physical issues that are degrading their quality of life, you should have a talk with your veterinarian.
How Many Calories Does a Senior Dog Need?
Just like with people, dogs need less food as they age. Or that is to say: we need fewer calories. Think of how a child can get away eating pizza and candy without putting on the weight, but you might work tirelessly and eat well just to maintain a healthy weight.
Your senior dog is going through the same thing. As a puppy, they may have eaten ferociously, but as they age, they just don’t need as many calories. Once they become seniors, they may be content to eat just a fraction of what they used to. What is important is making sure that they are eating what they should be. Keep an eye on your dog’s weight. If they are still in a healthy range, continue feeding them the same amount. If your dog is putting on weight talk to your vet about cutting back their food or switching to a different dog food.
Protein should be an important part of your dog’s food. If you’re getting a pet food that is designed for seniors, be sure it has more protein than your previous food.
As dogs age, they may not be consuming as much food. Their metabolism might also slow down. Protein is an important part of maintaining your dog’s muscles, so be sure they are getting enough. The recommended amount of protein for a senior dog is 25% of their calories should come from protein.
Oftentimes food makers will add fiber to a dog’s food to help them lose weight. These fiber sources can come from whole grains, fruit, or vegetables. While around 6% fiber is good for a dog’s digestion and weight management, don’t go overboard with fiber.
Fiber has very few calories when compared to other parts of your dog’s food. Since most senior dogs already will eat less, they probably don’t need their weight managed that closely. Fiber is a key component of a dog’s diet but going overboard can lead to unhealthy weight loss.
As dogs get older, they still need minerals and antioxidants to maintain their health. Medium-chain triglycerides are a type of fat that your dog will need to maintain a healthy brain. Olive oil or coconut oil can be a good source of these. You can also consider giving your dog some omega-3 fatty acid either as a supplement or just by occasionally feeding them fish.
You should also absolutely be giving your dog-safe fruits and veggies. No onions or garlic, but berries, carrots, and even kale can be great. These antioxidants attach to free radicals in your dog’s body and can help keep them a bit younger.
Whether you decide to feed your dog kibble from a bag or food you cook yourself, be sure to simply evaluate if you are giving them the best food possible. Your dog’s diet is what fuels them, so be sure they have fuel that will keep them going for a long time.